One of the advantages to Android's open source nature is that we can poke around in the source code, looking for interesting stuff. This is how we've become aware of some things Google has planned for the stock camera experience. Code from the Android Open Source Project shows that a new camera API has been in development, but it was pulled last month because it wasn't ready for release with KitKat.

2013-11-18 13_00_33-cd92588 - platform_frameworks_base - Git at Google

According to the AOSP code, Google has been working on building in support for burst shot, improved face detection, and shooting RAW images. Burst shot certainly seems like a no-brainer – almost every other device has that feature. It shouldn't be too hard to implement, either. Face detection has been part of Android for a while, but it seems to get confused by things that look almost like faces a little too often. So again, great. There is also some talk about removable camera elements in the code, but we don't have any indication what that might mean.

Shooting RAW images with the stock camera app would be crazy, and could be what Vic Gundotra was talking about a few months back when he said "insanely great" cameras were coming. A RAW image is not something you usually see on smartphones – it's essentially a file that includes all the data acquired by the image sensor for more powerful editing.

All this cool stuff was in active development (presumably for KitKat) until last month when a commit instructed developers not to merge it with the code base, saying it was "not yet ready." So that's probably why we still have the old camera app and functionality in KitKat. Hopefully this will be sorted out before the next major update.

[Ars Technica, Google Source]

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play.

  • Joe T

    Until they fix the audio distortion in video I'll be pissy about android's camera.

  • papernick

    What's the point of RAW images on a smartphone camera?

    • philnolan3d

      Same as the point in RAW from a DSLR. Better control over editing after the fact. Plus if it works with photoshphere it could make awesome light probes for 3D work.

      • NexusKoolaid

        Indeed. @papernick, also consider that the processing software that one might run on a smartphone will have been written with battery life in mind. Take that RAW and process it with the full power of a PC and you might end up with better results. Overkill? Perhaps, and nowhere near DSLR quality to be sure, but better than quick-and-dirty in-camera work.

    • Smithers_Jones

      There are already high end cameras that use Android, you might not know it, as the Android is well hidden. The Sony NEX5R, 6, 7 all use Android, but with Sony RAW format (there are about 20 different RAW variations).

      The Sony cameras also run apps, but only a select few camera/image things.

    • Dennis Ulijn

      Think of it as uncompressed music vs an mp3 file. Mp3 filters out the frequencies you can't hear (perceive is a different matter), like a non-raw file filters out the light you can't see. This means colors can have more contrast, more color and can be brightened more without losing information.

      • papernick

        I know what RAW is. What I meant is that it feels like overkill for smartphone cameras.

        • Bluewall

          What about next smartphones ? the camera alway get better.

          Don't just think about the one you're holding in your hand right now :)

        • Dennis Ulijn

          Smartphone cameras keep getting better. More and more people shoot their pictures with their phones and only their phones. If this makes people want to play with their photos and make the average photo quality of pictures on Google+ 1% better i think Google has reached their goal.

    • thas ★

      I sort of agree with this. The vast majority of people won't put in the effort to get the most out of the RAW image. I'm sure some might find it useful though.

  • Stew

    'Hopefully this will be sorted out before the next major update.' are you kidding? it doesn't take that long to develop a new camera API.

    • Guest

      They won't update the api with a 4.4.x update - it will take a new major update to do that.

      • Dominic Powell

        this is google you are talking about. They update when they please. Besides they probably want to get manufacturers on the new camera API's anyways, if the reason for poor android imaging in the pass is due to the the old camera API. ANd if they can update that in the next month or so, Manufacturers can have access to it before anymore "hero" devices come out with 4.4 KITKAT

      • Imparus

        Ginderbread was running with 2 different API, so was HC, so it isn't impossible it will happen.

  • tyler

    Maybe the removable camera has something to do with Project Ara

    • Andrea


    • Dennis Ulijn

      No, this is Google's code, not motorola's. I think it has to do with the interchangable camera lenses. Someone found out there is a magnetic mating system in the big lens on the back of the Nexus 4 (and probably the nexus 7 one)

      • HebeGuess

        The project you mentioned unlikely requiring to take a camera offline during mating, mostly just rendering the camera a second or two out of focus.

        • Dennis Ulijn

          I don't mean that phoneblock idea. I mean actual interchangeable LENSES, http://www.reddit.com/r/Android/comments/1q6jv7/nexus_5_camera_has_magnet_ring_builtin_for_addon/

          • HebeGuess

            I'm aware and talking about it. This is just an extension right? it do not need to talk to device. And if you are looking into the API code they are really shutting down the camera service (corresponding to provide camera access to any apps).

          • Chris Seward

            That's been really exaggerated... after seeing that post, I purchased Photojojo lenses thinking they would stick, however, only the smallest (wide/macro) of the three lenses they offer really stays on at all (and not that well). The other two fall off immediately for me.

            That said, I attached the included metal rings, which makes them hold quite securely, and am still impressed by their products when they are used as they intended - Can take some great macro / fisheye photos now.

      • MrWicket

        the ring being magnetic on the N5 isn't an intentional feature, just a coincidence with the magnets in the N5 and a metal ring around the camera. cool yes but not official.

    • HebeGuess


      While offering a camera offline API is a pre-emptive move to me. It might be clearing the path for project ARA or else, due to recent android hardware development let's not to suprise if an OEM sudden announcing upcoming devices with an attachable camera too.
      While providing proper API can prevent OEM from offering funky OEM-specific API and workaround for attachable camera. Which it will certainly breaks or render useless a numbers of thing.

      Currently android camera service are designed as start on boot, so OEM will have to develop their own ways to start and stop camera service and OEM-specific API for third-party. Unless camera apps implemeted private API, else they are expected to crash on start if no camera attach. Apps on playstore are filtered according to devices and app manifest, the question is how should they handles against devices with ability to attachable one. No issues if playstore filtered them out, nut there will be no third-party camera apps for the poor device owner. If playstore let them through, camera apps will just crash on start if no camera attach (or missing camera service).

      Why not save a lot of hurdles if you know attachable camera are coming sooner or later? Hey, make use of this official android API.

  • philnolan3d

    It would be really awesome if you could shoot a photosphere and save it as RAW.

    • blahmoomoo

      Even saving the individual images as JPG would be nice if you had better stitching software than what photosphere has to offer (especially in early iterations).

      • Mark Shryock

        I stitching better in 4.4?

        • blahmoomoo

          I don't have 4.4, so I wouldn't know, but since it sounds like the app wasn't changed in 4.4, I'd say not.

          I was referring to how 4.3 got improved stitching, but of course it still isn't perfect. You can usually get better results using a program that lets you adjust how images get stitched together, so it would be nice if you could save the original images in case you wanted to try that.

        • nawa

          Yes it is, and it was mentioned in a review here (Nexus 5, IIRC)

    • Robb Nunya

      Awesome, as in, filling up your phone's storage?

      • philnolan3d

        It's not like you have to keep it on your phone.

  • TheDMaster

    I love raw ;) ahahaha

  • Captain Canada

    The holo blue in the camera app post KitKat proves that it was neglected by Google in this update. Everyone seems pretty happy about the 4.4 upgrade, to me it didn't make the user experience any better, rather this was an update for Google to push their own agendas.

    • Zak Taccardi

      The user experience was already pretty great in 4.3.

      Just need customizable quick settings now in my opinion

      • spinner735

        IMO this is the only essential feature missing from android (thats why I use custom roms)

        2 other features I would like to see in stock android are options to add and customize app shortcuts on the lockscreen and when swiping up from bottom of the screen for GNow.

        • Zak Taccardi

          True story!

      • basteagow

        This. Sony has had customizable quick settings for a while, and I find them invaluable.

      • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

        Power toggles from the Play Store.

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

      Android has always been a delivery method for Google services. It has become more than that, but at its core, that's what Android is.

  • deltatux

    I think KitKat still has several things that are rough around the edges, there are still some parts of the OS with the Holo Blue, I have a suspecting feeling that Android 4.4 was eventually rushed for the Nexus 5 launch. I think Google just simply ran out of time this time...

    • navjot

      I believe the holo blue throughout the os is intentional. The system still uses a blue theme but it is changed to white in places where this theme would clash with other apps (status bar, keyboard, etc.). The holo blue in settings or other areas is probably there to stay.

  • hickery

    Wouldnt doubt There is still a key lime pie coming probably 5.0 . my opinion they didn't release it with N5 because its going to be a big update not just Lil features here and there and its related to art 4.3 is to get dev's ready so there apps work.. I have no proof of my statement but using android long enough . makes sense. So new camera makes sense

    • Chris Lambert

      No. The K's are done. L next.

  • Vikramaditya Rai

    The ability to take RAW images would be absolutely crazy! I just hope that Google doesn't make this a part of the next major update which the Nexus 4 won't get.

    • Michael

      If it is part of Android 4.5 which should be part of the Nexus 10 (according that the Nexus 10 is noch released in the comming few weeks), then also Nexus 4 owners should get it. The Nexus 10 should be available withing the 18 months timeframe of the Nexus 4 release.

      • Deeco

        It will be a minor update so 4.4.1

        • mgamerz

          You don't add a big new API in a small minor update. The only exception is 2.3.4

          • Justin Swanson

            Theoretically this could be another situation where they do that. If the only major change to the API is the addition of the Camera API, I could see Google pushing it that way.

            Otherwise you get critical feedback of "After only 60 days of being released, Google Revises Kitkat from 4.4 to 4.5."

          • http://aidan.info.tm/ Zack Casey

            Err, 4.1 to 4.4 are all minor as is.

          • mgamerz

            No they aren't. There's a big list of changes. Just cause they aren't user obvious doesn't make them minor.

  • http://404err0r.com/ Henry Park

    Darn... I don't want to wait till 4.5..... I'd assume that 4.5 is gonna come with Nexus 10 since that will be really outdated by then lol

  • Björn Lundén

    The "DO NOT MERGE" part is meant for one of their merge scripts if I recall correctly. It is not some kind of instruction to the other developers.

  • dhruva

    will it be possible to introduce this new camera api through play services?

    • HebeGuess


  • NF

    I think it was a bad decision to not fix all the issues before launch. The Nexus 5should have had an "insanely great" camera, but so far it's only good.

    Although I can tell this was heavily developed because the new photo editor is vastly improved, so they must've run out of time developing the rest. They should've prioritized it, but now we just wait until the next release. For a new set of APIs, I don't anticipate this being 4.4.1.

    • Nick

      Good is being fairly generous. The Galaxy Nexus' camera may have been a bit lower resolution, but it was 10 times faster than the lag fest camera found in the N5. I think besides GEL in general, the camera on the N5 is my biggest complaint.

      • NF

        I just have seen comparison photos and the quality isn't bad.

  • RitishOemraw

    So do we have to wait till 5.0 - 4.5 or whatever or can it come in 4.4.1 or can it become a Google Play Store download?

    • Chad S

      A new camera API will have to be integrated into Android through an actual update itself.

      • RitishOemraw

        but is it likely for a 4.4.1 update or are we looking at 4.5/5.0 ?

        • ryan

          who could possibly care at all.....

          • RitishOemraw

            I do, at least then I know if I should expect it within 6 months or at the 6month mark

  • didibus

    RAW isn't the all mighty magical savior to superior pictures. I still want a Nexus phone with a better camera, that has a better sensor and lens and aperture and light intake. RAW is a nice bonus, but only if the camera is already decent.

  • Vikramaditya Rai

    I noticed something just a few days back. Everyone keeps complaining about the poor quality of the camera of the Nexus 4.
    I observed that even in normal, well lit conditions, it takes photographs at very high ISO levels (1100-1600). This brings in a lot of noise in the images.
    I just hope that this too is fixed.

    • RH

      Plus, unless they include an app that makes bringing raw to a tiff/jpeg easily, it will turn off most people.
      I've been shooting RAW on a dSLR for years. You shoot 200-300 pictures in a day and it can take 2-3 days processing each one because I'm picky.
      Raw won't make your lousy pictures perfect, but they sure do give you options on opening up the highlights & shadows a bit. If they are going to introduce raw, it should give you an option. Jpeg, raw, or raw with a smaller jpeg, for email etc.

  • Crispin Swickard

    I would just be happy if my N5 would be able to take a shot that's in focus...

    • nxtiak

      Yeah no kidding. I touch the screen, it focuses, then when I tap the shoot button, it refocuses to blurry and saves the picture.. wtf

      • Crispin Swickard

        Exactly. hopefully it will be addressed on the first patch. Its obviously a software issue, and heard murmur that Google was aware of the issue.

        • SamLehman617

          If you're aware of it, Google's probably aware of it too. It will be a matter of time before a fix is released in the next update. Hopefully, the camera API will be included too instead of having to wait for the next major update.

  • Uniform Photography

    I think my photography job will slowly come to an end :( :(

  • Primalxconvoy

    I wish android devices would accept usb webcams so that i can skype easier when i dock my phone to my monitor.

  • David Barenburg

    I just hope they fix the problem with HDR+ photos that appear rotated 90 degrees, and when sent via Hangouts, lose their aspect ratio and appear stretched and distorted. I hope they work on getting that out soon.

  • http://aidan.info.tm/ Zack Casey

    That explains the early camera references.

  • AbbyZFresh

    In other words, KitKat was too rushed to the market. No wonder it's taking so long for my Nexus 7 getting it.

  • Guest

    I think that this image is a hint at the new camera app, the icon is different to the one included with the current KitKat

  • Marcus Nailor

    I think that this is a hint at the new camera app, it's different to the one that comes with the current version of KitKat :)